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Posts from the ‘Musings and Insights’ Category

Minor Stroke of…

*Note: This happened in 2014. The similarities between a minor stroke and grief are mind-blowing.

October 3rd was a glorious and warm fall day. Jon and I were visiting friends. The drive south was warm and sunny, and we were having a great conversation. The visit was great and we were now headed home for a nice long weekend. We were in Utrecht, stuck in traffic, and I was getting tired. I put my head down. “We need to leave for home earlier,” I said. Once again, rush hour.

Pulling into Huizen, we decided to run to the store for butter, and I stayed in the car because I was just so tired. It was then that I lost all strength in my neck. I couldn’t keep my neck up! Weird as it was, I ignored it. Jon helped me into the house and I just sat on the sofa. He made dinner and we watched television.

It was after a bit of whatever-it-was-we-were-watching that we took a pause and he noticed me. I felt terrible and my right leg and left arm felt funny. He said that my face looked like it was drooping. We called the after-hours doctors. They sent a doctor out. I knew then that something was really wrong, and that I was headed to, as Jon and I call it, the “big house.” Yet another medical adventure was underway.

After the doctor took a look and got my history, he phoned Utrecht UMC. It was determined that I would go there, as my records were there and they knew about my situation.

The best way to describe what happened to me is that I felt detached from my world, and my body was not in my control. I felt suspended in space and at the same time, as if I were a heavy, limp weight that had to be helped to do things. My right leg felt like it was suspended in mid-air. I would later be able to state that I felt as if my leg were “drunk.”

Ambulances are weird spaces. They can be disorienting and scary. Instinctively I knew I was having a stroke but I didn’t want to verbalize it. That was too terrible a concept to utter. At the time I just wanted Jon to be with me, and it seemed like it took him forever to get there. As usual, there had been a car accident, so the doctor was off with somebody else.

Finally at 2:00 am, I sent Jon home. They’d be coming for me to admit me, and he needed rest. As it turned out, I won the hospital lotto that night and was wheeled into a private room. Now that was luck! Peace was to be mine in the days that followed as my health crisis unfolded. It had only begun on that Friday evening.

Before admitting me they had done a CT scan, but not an MRI: That would be done Monday. CT scans don’t show everything and this one was no exception. I had lots of symptoms that didn’t seem to last, or make sense. By mid-Sunday my right leg felt paralyzed. As I lay there wondering what was coming next, I thought, What if my lungs shut down? What if I can’t breathe? Or, what if I die in this room all alone? Now, that got me thinking. Being alone in this situation was scary. I would later beg a nurse not to leave me in the middle of the night. He was great and stayed until I calmed down.

By this time in the process, I needed assistance in getting around. It was not fun and certainly somewhat embarrassing, but you do what you have to do to keep what dignity you can. My speech was also being affected in strange ways; it was different from anything I had experienced before. The left side of my face felt like it had puffed up, as well as my tongue, and I was speaking weirdly. I was now scared. The nurses just watched.

Throughout the entire process they kept asking me to rate the pain. The rating was never higher than an eight. I had suffered worse pain with a pancreatitis attack! They kept asking and I kept telling them where things stood.

Monday came and I wound up getting an MRI. Then it was time to wait. And wait I did.

Jon came and it felt safe. Then the three doctors came in. There were no smiles. This isn’t good news, I thought. I heard the word “stroke” and then I was swirling in words. The whole thing sounded like the voice of the teacher in Charlie Brown. I just faded in and out and thought, What have I lost? I was sure that my right leg and left arm were damaged. Anything else? I thought as I lay there taking an inventory.

I wanted to scream “STOP!” so I could process this. “STOP! You are going way too fast! I’m falling behind!” Jon was now upset and asking why they had not done the MRI sooner. Why had they not seen the stroke on Friday? We thought I had not had a stroke because of the CT scan. Yet in my gut I had known I was having a stroke. I’d just had the weekend to believe otherwise. Why had I deluded myself?

Now I had to tell my family what the real situation was. I knew this would disturb my mother—it did. She was already thinking that I’d die. Thousands of miles away, she wasn’t taking it well. I only found that out when I spoke to my sister. The friends we’d visited on Friday had contacted Jon to see how I was doing. Upon finding out now that I’d suffered a stroke, they drove up to the UMC to be there and offer support.

The nice thing about private rooms is that nursing staff will let you violate the rules with visitors. They stayed until nearly 10:00 pm. Then they left, and Jon followed shortly after. I was now alone. I had to now make a choice about medication. That seemed to be one thing I remembered in the earlier conversation.

The last thing I wanted to deal with at this point in time was vision loss. I had to decide if I was willing to risk just that. Did I want to risk going blind but still be functional? I knew it could happen. It was a chance I had to take. I had to risk taking a drug that would save my body from another stroke but could wipe out the remaining 12% of my sight. I spent Tuesday agonizing over the choice, knowing that I had to accept the pill or whatever it was I was in for. I was still symptomatic and Wednesday it was decided for me. I drank the powder that would be a daily routine until forever.

Wednesday also brought with it a friend who knew of a great rehab center that was 15 minutes from home. I am so thankful that Marion knew where I could go for the needed rehab. Sometimes you get lucky with the right information when you least expect it. I feel very fortunate that way. So, I might not have had a say in medication usage, but I did get to have a say in where the rehab was to be done. I was learning that I had to take what positives were handed to me and accept them. The anger at the negatives would come in time and all too soon.

I got lucky in that there has been no major damage. You never get well from a stroke. You can recover a certain amount of usage and strength. You can learn to manage energy wisely and move on. But, you don’t get well. That will never happen, and believing that you will get well is a myth. So, I’ve entered the recovery and learning phase of post minor stroke in my life.

I have shed tears, felt despair and emptiness, and at times feel like I’m a burden to Jon. He is listening and offering support. I know this isn’t easy on him either. It is a balancing act of allowing him bad days as well.

I appreciate that friends and family want to send kind thoughts and prayers. I think that is more of a comfort to them because somehow they feel as if they are helping. It is nice to be thought of in that way when I am so far from you. What I need is help and at this point that means phone calls and visits, as well as a meal so that Jon doesn’t have to shoulder it all by himself.

I just folded some laundry and I’m wiped out. You don’t know how much energy you consume until you don’t have any to put out. In the past few weeks my life has changed. I know it will change more. Some things will be good and others won’t be so easy. I got lucky; it could have been so much worse, and I’m thankful that it wasn’t. I will recover all I can. I will build strength up in as many ways as I can. I have begun the fight in simple ways. This is something I know how to do: the inner warrior is back. I’m ready to fight for everything I can recover.

Today I’m Thankful for Science

*Note: This was written in 2015. Putting it up now seemed right.

Today I’m thankful for science. I am glad that I am breathing, and functional, and that I get to go to physical therapy. I am glad that during this coming week I’ll begin the process of strengthening my arm and my leg. I’m glad that there are people who understand what it is all about.

I’m thankful that there are doctors, and others, that took the time to sit in classrooms and labs, and learn about what is going on in my brain. I’m thankful that they had the curiosity to study and learn. I’m glad that there were people who went before, who allowed interns and residents to work on them and study them so that they could get an education.

I think back to my days as an intern in grad school and my postgrad work. I’m thankful for clients who let me learn via the process of working with them. Next week on the 27th of November, there is a day of gratitude that is celebrated in the U.S. For those who are U.S. citizens: What will you give thanks for? What is your life all about? Who has made your life better this year? Whom do you owe a great thank-you to?

Once again I will thank my sister for the trip to the U.S. I will thank her kids for helping it to be a success. I am thankful for the fact that I was able to spend three weeks with my mother. I’m thankful that I got that time because I don’t know if I’ll ever have that again. (Thanks for the bash!!!)

I am thankful for friends. I wish I could see more of you, but you are there and I’m here, and our hearts are together.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the complex that we forget the very simple. I am writing a simple post because I want to remind you of the many things you have. You have the ability to move your hands, to walk to the mailbox, and to see the sun. You can open the box or click with the mouse. Somewhere you know someone who CAN’T. During the next year, pledge to extend to them a service they need. Pick up the phone and call them more often.

Gratitude is a two-way street. We need to take the time to be thankful for the stuff we have. We need to create things for others to be thankful for. It is about giving and receiving.

It is raining and cold outside, and I’m inside where it is toasty and warm. Penelope just popped by to say hello and stick her tongue out at me. I look up and see my back-lit parasols that Jon put up here in my workspace. I owe him a great debt of gratitude for the last five weeks. He has cooked and cleaned and comforted me when I’ve been sad and blue. I cannot repay this but I can give a thankful heart and a very public mention.

On Tuesday I will have my first physical therapy session and I hope I get pushed to the max. I will also have my first ergotherapy session and that, too, will be a challenge. I can’t wait!!!!

I Think I’m in Mourning

Grieving or mourning? That is the question some are asking now.

With the onset of quarantines, being in isolation, missing seeing those we love, and social distancing, what’s not to be sad about?

I can’t sit in my favorite restaurant and eat my favorite sandwich. I can’t get my hair done. I can’t do a great many things that I was able do in January. Because I’m at a higher risk for this than some adults, I chose to quarantine as soon as I knew there was a danger of getting the Coronavirus.

Two full months into this process, I’m missing the human contact. I’m missing planning a lunch outing. I’m sad, but not really grieving. I’m mourning what I can’t have right now. I believe I’ll get it back. I haven’t lost it forever.

So, those who have love—and have food to cook—are eating their way through this thing. We’re wearing more elastic waistbands and not buttoning our shirts. If we’re home, our dress code is a wee bit more laid-back. We aren’t missing the dress clothes.

I’m sad and I mourn what once was and what I didn’t understand could vanish, because to have it could kill the innocent and those at high risk. So many are at risk! So I stay home and connect with Zoom and Facebook. It isn’t the same, but it is something. I’ll take it!

As my count continues to rise in the area of “people I know who’ve had the Covid-19 virus,” and has gone from needing more than one hand to count on, I am sobered. No one I know has died from this—yet. I mourn the change it has brought to our world.

There are those who now grieve the loss of those they love. For them there will be faces missing around a gathering. Taken too early by a thing we don’t fully understand.

In my home, while I mourn what was lost, I also am seeing the positive. We are being shown that the earth can heal if we, as humans, step back and allow it to do so. This process has also shown me that there is a time to reach out and a time to have the quiet of my peaceful space. Don’t get me wrong, I love my princess of a cat, but when you start to want her to talk so that you can hear another voice in the room, it is time to reconsider the situation.

I think what I’m attempting to convey here is that yes, this situation sucks royally. Yes, there are some good learning points that can, and will, come out of this. Maybe tonight I’ll have food delivered just for the human contact and hearing another voice. Or maybe wait until Friday. Whatever I do, I know that I’ll get some of this back. Things might change for everyone, but change doesn’t mean lost. Change means growth, and that is a good thing for everyone. Yes, I’m sad and mourning, but I’ll get to have my sandwich and great fries again.

What will you get to have?

When

“Mommy, are we there yet?”

The woman in the front seat of the car is fighting the urge to turn around and duct-tape her child’s mouth shut—permanently. This phenomenon has happened on every long journey since time immemorial. Then the mother has this flash in her mind that carries her back to the beginning of time and particles smashing together. Maybe it even happened with the sludge of the universe as the Big Bang occurred. Imagine two atoms: “Are we there yet? Are we done yet? Can we get on with the Paleozoic Era?” But, duct-taping them would have caused a disaster. She smiles to herself instead and continues to focus on the road ahead.

Maybe in the grand scheme of the cosmos, delayed gratification is one of the great laws. The universe took the time it needed to come to its present state. That can teach us something. The universe was formed with only what it had on hand from the first moment all things slammed together and all things followed in order. No credit here. It waited. The universe used its resources where it needed them, when it was ready for each new phase.

Let’s face it: Putting pleasurable stuff off is a drag, but a necessary drag. Delayed gratification is about learning to respect the journey. Delaying gratification is about knowing that you can never have it all, instantly. Delaying gratification is about learning to work for what you want—waiting for the good stuff until you can get it in a healthy fashion.

But isn’t that a myth? You well remember that last flick that showed someone having it all: the big house, expensive car, fashionable wardrobe, fulfilling job, loving family and friends, and, let’s not forget—physical beauty. But, it rarely comes instantly. Real success, like the universe we live in, is painstakingly forged one item at a time. Yet, today, there are those who can’t wait. Saving is a thing of the past. Sorting out needs from wants is becoming blurred.

Remember childhood with its lazy times of fun and exploration? If you are old enough to have been raised during a time when play was really creative and done outdoors, you perhaps remember when books were a passage into another world (and not instantly made into movies), and TV was something that you watched for very few hours weekly. If your childhood was like this, then you are one of those who learned a valued lesson: doing fun things takes planning and time.

It is also highly probable that chores and learning to work were a natural part of your life. You had to save for what you purchased. I remember going to the store to purchase some shoes I’d saved for. For weeks I walked by that store window and looked at those slingbacks. Getting them made me feel “adult” and responsible. I earned those shoes. I wore them out proudly, had them repaired, and continued to wear them out.

For each of us the lesson is different: Anticipation is a good thing. Anticipation makes the gift we are receiving more intriguing, the new dress more exciting, and the new car that we saved up for more valuable. Anticipation gives a deeper meaning to most things we have and desire. There is a type of magic to working for something. Keeping it becomes valuable to you because to discard it when it still works means that you are discarding your hard work. Tossing it out just to get the latest thing can be an issue.

As I think of all the technology that has evolved since I was a kid, I remember that sunny, July day when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down on the moon and life as we then knew it was altered. The moment was electric. Now it seems that much of the “electric” has gone out of innovation and progress. Progress is a constant in an advanced society. More and more, having it all instantly is a must. Trading up for the latest in tech, when the old is still of value, is common. To suggest that you keep what you have might be heresy. It is about having the latest and dumping the old. There is a rush on to have it all NOW with no waiting period.

We now have smartphones, smart drugs, and smarter cars, and yet we have not become any smarter ourselves. While results are faster, we as humans are still finite. We live through our technology. We live, thinking and feeling as if all answers must come fast, as if deeper thought should somehow be instant. We want that insight NOW, rather than being willing to let life teach us. We might even become impatient when our first few searches on Google fail to turn up what we need. Searching shouldn’t take us so much time. Why can’t we get it faster? Well, searching on Google is hard work, that’s why. Finding the correct answer does take some deeper looking and heavier reading. In the process you might conclude that there is not a perfect, or good enough, answer to your search, and that maybe it DOESN’T exist out there in cyberspace.

Remember when science was supposed to save us? Remember when the Peace Movement was the answer to conflict? Remember when autonomy was the answer to authority? I think we need to reread The Glory and The Dream by William Raymond Manchester.

Maybe we as a world need duct tape on our gratification instincts. Okay, that is an eensy, weensy, bit extreme. Or is it?

I have taken up baking. It is wonderful to create something that comes out of the oven and is warm and yummy. The fact is that baking demands that you wait. There is a proper time when eating will bring the desired pleasures of good food. Just think of something you love melting in your mouth and your brain will light up in anticipation. Your mouth might begin to prepare for the pleasure as you read this. BUT, you have to work to make it, so you had better make lots of it to enjoy!!!! Yikes!! I want to eat those scones I plan to bake for Saturday, but I want them right now!!!

The whole idea for this commentary came from a conversation I had with someone about the guide dog I’m working on getting. I’ve been in this process since 2010. At this point, I just want to move on. I’ve had to think about whether I’m ready, or even wanting, to move forward, because I can’t wait. Like the universe, I have had to work with raw thoughts. I’ve had to shape and train them. Crossing the street in safer places has become a must. Thinking about HOW I’ll do it and memorizing routes takes time. Learning the train stations and bus stations has been fun, but I’m glad I’m past that.

I’ve had to reevaluate my established walking routes, my future needs, and the needs of our cat, Penelope, who will have to welcome a dog into the house. Getting this dog is life changing, and making the correct choice at the right time is important for our family.

I’ve spent 15 months in Apeldoorn learning what things that I’ve needed, and lacked. While I was in Apeldoorn, I was also able to observe others with dogs. My process is of more value because of all of this. While I don’t want to rush things, I feel the time has come to move things along. It isn’t about “when” but rather about the process and how secure I feel with it.

Childhood is all about “getting there.” Young adulthood seems to be moving in the direction of attempting to get it as fast as possible and show it off. Eventually there comes a time in life when you reach “wisdom,” or the point when you accept that you never will fully have everything you think you need, but that you can have the “needful things.” The journey is what it is all about. Saving up for the good stuff is where the greatest reward lies. Understanding our real needs and allowing ourselves to have wants that might become realities brings peace through expectation.

“Mommy, are we EVER going to get there?”

“Yes honey, count the green and red cars, and tell me how many you can find.” I’ll be content to count the red and green cars until the doggy enters my life. I hope it is sooner than later because I feel better about “it” coming into my life now.

*Note: The dog turned out to be a no go.

Seasons

The air was crisp and the trees were colorful. I was happy because my favorite season of the year was present. Autumn was present in every form including the warm colors of clothing that I loved so much.

For me autumn is what I like best about the year. The northern California Indian-summer days, and the crisp feel that you get when you are out and about, are wonderful. As a child, going back to school—which I didn’t like because I had to stop reading what I wanted—was only tolerable because it meant AUTUMN was in the air. For me the world was then, and is now, perfect in the autumn.

As you age, the seasons melt into the cycles of time. The playfulness of life and a budding spring and its excitement give way to the learning of summer. Oh, and summer is filled with exploration and the joys and perils of adventure: the challenges and joys of learning on your own, as you discover that the lessons of young childhood and early adulthood must become a basis for your fast-but-seemingly-slowly-approaching full onset of adulthood. There might be some true “yikes” moments during summer. Those “yikes” moments, when you catch yourself about to make a life decision that is better rethought, can be a good thing. “Yikes” means that you are aware of what is going on!!!!

Summer brings discovery of your real “self” emerging into view. Summer also brings a desire to have it all. You don’t want to see it end. You want to play hard and never see the sun go down. Summer brings a growth that you learn from trial and error. The lessons of spring and the early summer remain with you as you feel the time now fast approaching when autumn is on the way.

If you’ve had those yikes-type moments, and have taken the time to repair what needed fixing, you are in good shape now.

Autumn is the season of wisdom. Autumn is the time when the lessons of a young spring and summer are played out. Autumn is a time of realization, regrets, new focuses in life, and a time of hopes, as well as sorrows. Before autumn ends, and the onslaught of winter comes with its powerful resolution to destroy all that you hold dear, you must navigate through the autumn.

Autumn is, in a sense, “karma collection,” or payback. Realizing that I could have made better choices has only come because I made the not-so-good choices. I took risks in life. The thing about autumn is that you can’t turn back. And, you can’t avoid it, because everything we do in life has a price attached. You must adapt, accept, let the leaves of autumn fall, and move on.

Autumn still offers me time to change, to learn, and to grow. I love autumn! Raking up autumn’s leaves is important, and like it is for a child who jumps in the pile of leaves (you know, the one he or she is told NOT to jump in), it can be exhilarating. I like to inventory the leaves and really see what is there. I learn from this inventory and that is always good. I love the process of change, even though, at times, change is an unwanted aspect of life. Getting through the trials of change still brings me hope. I am better for it.

As I now reflect on my spring, and the innocence in which I lived it, I’m amazed I did as well as I did. I look at my life and realize that it has had its challenges. Challenge is what it’s about. I’m not always thankful for that which has kicked me from behind or punched me in the front. But, I can honestly say that I’ve knocked down the walls that have sprung up in my path. Tearful days and nights have made me stronger and wiser when it comes to life. It is the mistakes that make you think about the new stuff in a self-confrontational manner.

If my spring was innocent, my summer was an adventure in learning. By being able to make both good and bad choices, and dealing with the consequences of those choices, I grew. Summer is a time when the life bank account is in “deposit mode,” and what you put in will, in the future, be withdrawn. You will have to pay for your summer. Some payments will work well, and others will hurt like having a tooth pulled without the Novocain. Life is like that, and you can’t turn from it. Sooner or later, the crisp days of autumn roll around and you enter that time when all accounts begin to go into “withdrawal mode.”

I am amazed when I hear someone say that they really haven’t had any challenging stuff happen in life. I wonder to myself what they haven’t been doing. The fact is, life is a series of challenges. Making mistakes is a good thing because it can mean that you are engaged in the life process. Learning from your mistakes means that you are progressing and committed to doing better as you move through life. Autumn is that time of the year when one can reflect.

I’ve come to the serious conclusion that few are blessed with all the wisdom they need to make life decisions at 20 or even 25 years old, and yet that is what is demanded of the young. I hear of more and more adults in their 40s or 50s who embrace the unknown of what they really want to do. They are happier for it. Autumn is a time to rethink, to take a risk, and to change the course of life. “If only I knew” becomes “Why not?”

Autumn is when you realize that it isn’t “too late” or “hopeless.” Grab the brass ring and do it!!!

Healing from the springs and summers of life makes everything more valuable. Reflection during our autumns causes us to sober up, to appreciate our youth for what it was, and to anticipate the future for what we can create as vibrant adults. Whether we’ve done it well enough in the past, or are choosing to do it well at this point in life, autumn is that time of life.

I’ve learned via observation that those who seem more at peace during their winters are those who have challenged themselves during their autumns. They are actively enjoying the lives they’ve built, and face with dignity the storms that life will still produce. I will always cherish what each autumn brings to me.

As I look out my window and notice the sun’s changing position, and feel the lowering temperature, I know that once again my favorite season is approaching. Autumn, with its crisp days and warmer colors, is just around the corner. I can’t wait.

Unending Story

A Place for My Heart

Towards the end of my work in Apeldoorn, I became aware of my personal space in the house. We moved into this house in March of 2011, and I was busy with the details of settling in and making sure our things had places. The upstairs rooms are small and it was a challenge to really know which space was best for what.

The downstairs is an open room that is “our space,” with the kitchen at one end and the other end for general use. We both like to be in the kitchen and we are learning to share the space—happily. It is nice to have a guy who wants to cook with me. The space where I work is a tiny room that has many Gail-type things within. Recently this space has seemed a wee bit cramped. Cramped isn’t good for the soul. What can I do?

Slowly, over the past month, I began to notice the lack of a feminine place for me to exist within. I’ve considered creating a dressing table where I could keep all the things that make my head pretty. The problem is that there isn’t the space to place such a table.

So Hubby will make the table, and when he really gets down to the business of design (which I’ve already done in many ways) and creating, the finished product will be wonderful. It will be nice to have the table when it is completed.

Places of Passion

As a beautiful place for me is a must, so is a place that sparks life as essential as breathing. For me, my work is such a place. I find that I become a joyous and happy soul when I think in terms of what I love and do well. I find myself exploring questions that, in turn, lead to other questions and cause me to wander over vast areas of space. I dip into one space, only to find a jumping-off point for another. The “what if” and “what about this, or that” span into hours of discussion time with another person and cause me to tingle and feel a type of life that exists nowhere else. This type of knowledge energizes me in a way that nothing else does. When I am not able to have this in my life, I find life to be dull, as if a vital ingredient is missing. I knew at a young age what I wanted professionally, and was not able to reach that goal until I was in my 30s. At 16 I was fortunate to meet, and know, someone who had returned to graduate school to pursue her master’s degree at a later age. As we spoke, and I discovered what it was she was doing, I started asking questions that we could talk about. She would tell me about what she was learning, and I discovered that I had valid opinions about what we were discussing. Psychology fit my brain in ways that studying history did not do for me. I was alive. I was also hooked.

I found that one of my early areas of interest was working with people of differing cultures; at first it was those with disabilities. How could the family system be strengthened when disability rears its head within the family walls? My interests have branched out to those of other nationalities and cultures and exploring the richness within. What was someone’s experience as a Peruvian or Mexican? How do they experience life in a different country?

During my graduate period, I began to explore other areas as well as the above-mentioned ones. Art and creativity and music were a special focus. I became aware of using journals and the power of writing it all down. I also began to understand the traumas that people endure and how they cope with them. Ultimately, my love of disability issues has remained firm. There is power in freeing the person who may be told “You can’t because you are […].” I believe that many things are possible. It is all about finding a path and making that journey—and it will take courage. This journey will change everything.

The Journey Within

There is something about the journey, and exploration of a person’s journey, that ignites excitement within my heart and soul. An “aha” moment when a light switches on, the click when a missing piece of the puzzle is found, the discovery that what one believes can change, or the finding of a new path. I want to know what the next bend in the road brings me and where the journey is headed. Change is exciting and challenging.

Respect is also a vital component. Someone is letting me into their inner space. I am allowed to walk with them through hardships and triumphs. If there is a failure, I need to respect and honor the process of their recovery and rediscovery. Compassion and respect can be a powerful ally in the healing process. It is sorrow I feel when someone decides to not go further on the path that would lead them to a better place in life, BUT at some future time, they may resume the journey. Life is full of uncertainty and how we each face the unknown says so much about us. If we each had a crystal ball, would we use it? If we saw the challenges ahead, would we still choose to go down that path? Life is about learning and meeting the challenge. “If only I had” kills the spirit. “If only I had” deprives each of us of what we can learn and gain from the mistake.

Part of my personal journey in life has been my own process of learning to ponder slowly. Learning that I don’t have to get anywhere fast has been a nice consequence of aging. Now I am prone to concluding things for myself in my own time. I may sit on something for some time before grokking it in proper fashion. My brain and soul are on a quiet and slow path to understanding the needful things. I wasn’t always as slow to conclude as I am now. The time of youth was far different. I cherish where I am and what can come of it. Who I am during my 50s will be a far cry from what I will have learned by 75 and who I will have become. If I haven’t changed and become a better person, what is the use of life? Maybe there will be one younger than myself who gains from the wisdom I’ve gathered. Someone who will say to me “You are so wise,” and I will have to say “I’ve come by this through imperfection and making both wise and stupid choices.” Maybe I’ll laugh at the thought that I’m thought to be wise. Only time will tell.

Places of Mystery

Isn’t that what all this is about? Living our best, leaving a legacy for others? Making the world a better place because we’ve touched it and made a change somewhere during our existence? Isn’t life all about doing good and not even knowing where the good leads to? You never know what you can say to reach out and inspire someone along the way. Because of what you say or do, someone might be inspired to take the first step towards a new beginning. I heard of such a situation just this afternoon: something my husband did has changed someone’s life for the better. He had no way of knowing that his willingness to be so open would help someone else reach out and move down the path of life.

I’m excited because someone is headed to a new place of discovery and mystery that will bring change and fulfillment. I’m alive!!!!

Music Bridging the Gap

“Love in any language,

Straight from the heart,

Pulls us all together,

Never apart.”

And once we learn to speak it,

“All the world will hear

Love in any language

Fluently spoken here.”

Sandi Patty sang this song and it was authored by John Mays and Jon Mohr.

Throughout my life, it has been music that has saved me from the insanity of life’s happenings. Music has been a vital part of my day. It has calmed me, allowed me to express emotions that I could otherwise not readily connect with, and it has allowed me to create wonderful things. There is one other wonderful thing about music: it is an equalizer.

My earliest memory of music is of my father playing the piano. I grew up hearing Grieg, Rachmaninoff, Mendelssohn, and countless others. Music was sometimes what I would drift off to sleep with. Music was also a chance for me to sing. I couldn’t do many things as a toddler, but I could carry a tune. I was singing before I could talk or walk. Because of my father’s music background, I was tested for absolute pitch, or perfect pitch, as it is more popularly known. I don’t quite have that, but I’m not far off from it. Considering the fact that I also have hearing loss, this isn’t too shabby. I’m proud of what I can do with music, and that I’m good enough to sing with a string quartet. It would be great to sing with an orchestra. What a blast that would be!!!!

I’ve sung in Italian, German, Spanish, and Latin. Music is a way of universal communication. Music, when done well, can shine as an example in any language with the beauty that it contains. I am discovering that there are beautiful recordings in the Dutch language. When I listen to them, the guttural Dutch sound becomes a thing of wonder. When the singer sculpts the words, well, there is an understanding that bridges the gap. Just like the “I love you” that is spoken in any language, the meaning cannot be misconstrued. So, “love in any language” becomes “music in any language.”

Music is the one thing that anyone can do!!! Think about it for a minute: You can teach someone to carry a tune and match the note. But, you don’t have to teach a child to open their mouth and sing. Singing comes naturally. Intelligence and physical ability are not factors here. Music is everyone’s gift of being heard.

Bridges to the Heart

Throughout my life there have been many bridges. One of the most powerful of those bridges has been volunteerism. During my life, I have been both a volunteer and the person on the receiving end. Both sides of the process are filled with positive feelings.

There are many ways of giving. Some commit to careers of service to others. Many people choose to give to an organization that represents something meaningful to them.

As I stop to think about the process that my future guide dog will have gone through, the first phase of that is the volunteer family who will take “my Eyelette” into their home and love and play with him, or her. What a gift!!!! Taking the time and the love to raise up a playful puppy in a healthy manner so that it can become a healthy guide dog for someone else!!!!

There is someone here at the Loo Erf who came in as a volunteer and he has affected me greatly. He loves what he does and it shows. The tricks and tips and encouragement that he has given me are gifts. It is a treat to have a braille lesson or a Dutch session with him. Personally, I think he has given this place a piece of his heart over the last ten years.

When I was in my 20s, I spent time doing an internship that involved those with mental illness. I gave several hours per week to those who were in need and in return I received a new view of life. They taught me to laugh in a new way. They taught me understanding. I learned so much from each of them. I still think of them and wonder where they are now.

We used to watch one of the animal rescue shows. Many of the animals were depressed and beaten down, but with the love and help of volunteers, they became “cute animals.” So we renamed the show “cute animals.” Volunteers are great!!!! Volunteers change lives.

My Pitch

Think about giving some of your time. The rewards are phenomenal. The sacrifice is well worth what the recipient will return to you in love and appreciation. Get out there on the web and Google up your loves, because somewhere out there, someone needs you to give to them.

The Gift of Being Heard

I’ve spent many hours listening to and being listened to. I’ve communicated, at least on some superficial level, what I meant to say. I pause to listen, to tune in, but in my haste, I fail to hear the real sound that I am in need of hearing. I listen, but fail to hear.

You can learn listening skills that will, if you practice them, enable you to not “spring” too soon. You can learn to clarify what is being said, and the person on the other end of the conversation may come away feeling as if they communicated successfully.

We listen inquisitively, we listen out of curiosity, we listen in hopes that if we do so it will somehow all be over and we can say “I listened to you. What more do you want from me?” We listen with resentment and fear. We don’t really want to know. We listen passively. We practice “active listening.” We justify all of this as doing a good bit of what we perceive listening and hearing to be.

At the end of the person’s sharing, they may be frustrated by the lack of listening we displayed. Maybe they are right. Maybe we blew it all off, tuned ourselves out. Maybe we did a “good enough” job of listening, but it wasn’t good. Maybe we got lucky. Maybe they left feeling a bit better for having spent the time in conversation. They might feel any of the above, or they might feel something else, and we might not be given the chance to find out just how we did during that conversation. There are times when we only get one shot at listening and turning it into truly hearing what the other person is telling us.

Each conversation is a one-shot deal. It is my observation that for most of us, we spend time listening, but not hearing. Hearing is an art and most of the time we fail to do it very well. Hearing is acknowledging what is left unsaid, as well as the spoken portion. Hearing is seeing and feeling the richness of the soul. Hearing can be like unwrapping a gift box. There are no courses for hearing. There are only times in our lives when we are the person who hears in fullness and the person that is fully heard. These are the times that we remember most. To fully hear and be heard: to grock it (Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein). This knowing is what hearing and being heard is all about: to have a fullness of understanding and to view the “gestalt,” or the picture in its entirety.

Recalling the conversation that sparked this blog title isn’t essential. The last comment, however, was the true gift: the gift that told me that for a brief moment in time, I mattered to this person. “You needed to be heard.” Those words became significant. That one sentence caused my soul to change. I had been given the gift of being heard and I knew it.

Hearing it Physically

Music is a major part of my life. I listen, I sing, and yet I don’t hear all of its richness due to a hearing loss. I can hear harmonies, but not the richness that is present. I miss what the composer intended that I hear. If I use headphones I can hear more, but not all of the richness that is present. Headphones can be a pain. To hear the richer and fuller sounds of the music, I must wear them. I must use them when I Skype. I must be tuned into the other person.

Recently I decided that I needed to revisit the hearing instrument market. I had worn one such gadget from the mid ’80s to the late ’90s. The gadget was big and not very effective. When I moved to Germany, I stopped wearing it. I would live without hearing because it felt better to not have that gargantuan thing in my right ear. I would also be rid of the background noises that were not wanted. Hearing was not pleasant.

Life changed and I needed to see if I could introduce a better quality of hearing pleasure into my daily experience. I found a center that does thorough screening for hearing loss and took that information to the techie who would do the actual work of finding the proper gadget for my sorry state of being. I didn’t feel very hopeful. My past experience was foremost in my mind.

The next week something wonderful happened: I heard a conversation and didn’t have to ask the person to repeat what was said. This was novel!!!! There were no raised voices. The experience was beautiful. Listening was effortless. I could once again hear the world around me.

I began to explore and found that I could have background music on and still hear!!!! I could listen as our three cats munched down their meals. Cats are noisy when they munch. I could listen to the sound of the water, which had always seemed so quiet. Once the initial adjustment to hearing old sounds in new ways passed, I was happy. I was excited about having something else switched on. That switch was triggered a week later.

That next Monday, my music-listening program went live. I heard music in a new way. I was ecstatic. I could hear notes that had gone missing!!! The guy told me about some technology that would enhance my hearing experience to even greater heights. I had him order the “Mini Tek.” NOW I WAS EXCITED! Oh, to hear the world in ways it was meant to be heard!

This gadget Mini Tek enables the user to have the sound transmitted directly to the hearing instrument. I would have a clear stream of beautiful noise!!!! I would be tuned in precisely!!!! I would hear my phone conversations while out and about and not have to ask the speaker to repeat themselves. Life was getting to be a bit of heaven on earth… UNTIL I found out that the insurance, which was paying for thousands of Euros of hearing pleasure, would not cover this 300 Euros of enhancement technology, and I was faced with having to return the box that I had only hours before opened so excitedly.

Returning that box to the Beter Horen (we’re now in Holland) was one of the most depressing days of my life. I asked my husband Jon to do it because I was too depressed, too sick in my heart of hearts, to take it back. So, for now the gift of really hearing music and out of the house phone conversations is not happening. For now it is hard, but not as hard, to hear. But this is just about physical hearing and not about the needful hearing.

The Gift Box

Fortunately, for the true hearing of the soul I don’t need a hearing instrument. I don’t need a Mini Tek; I need an open heart that is tuned to the correct frequency of another’s heart. The transmission will be clear. I will be shown what I am meant to see and hear. That is what the gift of being heard is all about.

The gift of being heard is about feeling the soul. We must not only hear the words of the heart, but we must see the landscape of the soul. Only with both true hearing and clear vision can we understand and grant the gift. Only then can we hope to understand the rich soul-scape that awaits us. Only then will we rejoice and be thankful that we unwrapped and shared the gift of being heard.

The Kitty Story

For the past 21 years there have been cats in my life. The first cat was Phred. Phred came with my current husband, so I got to know both of them before we married. Phred was wise, good, and a mighty hunter. Phred was an amazing boy who could sit in porcelain-kitty pose on the window box and just be the most precious, welcoming cat in the universe. This doesn’t describe him perfectly, but it is a start. For me, Phred was my son. Yes, a child. The one outstanding thing I must mention is his addiction to fishy-flavored flakes. IF we let him have some of those things, he would then go on a hunger strike and demand MORE. Never feed a cat something they can become addicted to!

Next came the princess, and her name was “’Roo,” as in kangaroo, due to her early kitty behavior. ’Roo, like Phred, lived on two continents, but had the distinction of living in three countries. The princess was an international kitty. ’Roo had the most amazing quality of not only being beautiful on the outside, but glowing from within. Quite frankly, I’ve never met another cat that I could say that about. ’Roo had so many good qualities and, like Phred, had a nice furry life.

When Phred departed in April of 1999, we decided to wait to see what happened before we became kitty parents yet again.

Barney came to us as a farm cat. He just wandered into our tiny house on the mountain and made friends with ’Roo, and by the end of the fall of 1999 we asked our landlord if we could take him in permanently. I’m glad we did. 

Barney moved with us from Southern Germany to Eastern Netherlands. We lived in an upstairs flat. There was a landing that had a narrow banister. Barney could hold his ground in that space, even when the fierce wind was present. He scared us when he did it. We could imagine him blowing away. Barney was stronger than any kitty we’ve known. Hubby and I would have to restrain him if medication was needed, and we lost more than one battle with him. Barney was also very territorial, squirting up a storm in my new blue kitchen. He almost lost his life several times—cuteness saved him.

Barney loved yogurt and had a “yogurt voice.” I think he had a sixth sense for when the stuff was to be served. His little furry life was cut short due to heat stroke during the heat wave of 2003. We were devastated. It was then that I said, “I don’t think I can do this again. My heart is being pulled and my feelings for our kitty children are so strong.” I was learning something powerful about what our cats could be in our lives.

’Roo and Barney had been true friends. They would adventure together, causing us to wake in the middle of the night as they ran from one end of the house to the other. Barney became the defender of the territory and ’Roo, while older, let him do so. She kept dominance in a laughable manner and when she disciplined “The Boy” for crossing her, it was more comical relief than anything else. Barney got the message and fell into line as a good submissive should. I remember the first night ’Roo had without Barney. A cat entered our yard as if to take up the place, and all holy hell broke out. We looked out to see our princess running the little twerp off HER land. She still had it out there. ’Roo held the dominant place her entire life, but you never would guessed it at first glance. Her sweet and gentle personality was misleading.

Cats are just like children. When you get to know them, you discover a treasure chest of delightful happiness. Taking time to share in their little lives is the real gift. And now back to the narrative…

Hubby and I let ’Roo do her thing for several months. I wasn’t ready for a new cat. Barney’s death was so unexpected and my heart was being pulled into new forms of growth.

At the end of 2003 I began to talk about getting a Russian Blue. I had always wanted a Blue. We started to research them in more detail. I also knew a couple with a Blue and knew her to be skittish. This would not do in a cat. It was then that we stumbled on to the Britt. This was it!!!! During the holiday season we connected with breeders. The wait was shorter than I had planned for and I wasn’t certain if I was ready to “mommie” another kitty yet. 

We met Penelope and her sister Tweety on a cold January day in 2004, and we both fell in love instantly. What was not to love? Penelope was perfect: designed just for me.

’Roo had had periods in her little furry life where she had been alone, but had matured and gained a sense of self. She was confident and ready to share her life. This was a healthy choice for ’Roo.

When we carried Penelope home with us for her first night away from her sister, we were concerned about how she and ’Roo would accept each other. We isolated Penelope and she cried. By midnight, ’Roo was upset and wanting to help, so we decided that we’d try it another way. We let ’Roo into Penelope’s space. They bonded instantly. ‘Roo mothered the child and Penelope grew into a sweet, beautiful kitty daughter. All was well! My days were filled with loving our two kitty daughters and life was happy with them. Both were adorable and wonderful to have.

Just as bringing a child into the world should take two agreed-upon votes, so should bringing a kitty child into the home. We had talked about a third kitty and, finally being in agreement, it was time for action.

Hubby was smitten by Tweety, Penelope’s sister. I called the breeder to let her know that when Tweety got pregnant, if there was a blue and white male, we wanted him. “Funny you should call,” was the reply, “because she is giving birth tonight.” And in the morning the call came: JRA Bob had arrived. And it was a good thing I had called because several others were also interested in Bob. We felt blessed that he would come to our home.

That year for Christmas, I gifted JRA Bob to my husband.

Now, we do know that Bob had already eaten through some hot computer cable. He tore up some curtains. He was a general troublemaker as a wee kitty. He was the ringleader who looked as innocent as could be, but there was always something brewing inside. And, this was while he was still with his mother!!!!! To this day, we are certain there was some brain damage: He never quite managed to grow up.

When we carried Bob home, we decided to let the boy out and allow the introductions to come naturally. There would be no isolating Bob. This time all holy hell broke out!!!! We thought Penelope would kill him. This was not good at all. Long story short, we put Penelope on Prozac. ’Roo, while irritated at times, was, for the most part, fine with the newbie.

Bob was the craziest, most curious, and all-around cat-like kitty to be had. There was never a dull moment with Bob. My kitty mommie hands were full!

When they were passing out kitty personalities, we figure Bob kept returning for yet another and another and the conversation had to have sounded something like this:

Bob: I want more personality.

Giver: We already gave you a personality and that is all you get. Now go away!!!

Bob: But this isn’t enough. I can’t be as happy, bouncy, lively, and beaming as I’m meant to be. I need more personality and I just know I’ll burst if I don’t have enough. I need so much MORE!!!! Please?

Giver: OK, JRA Bob.

Bob was right. Bob was loaded with love and affection beyond belief, and Bob was Gorgeous. “Beautiful,” in my mind, just doesn’t do him justice. Bob was the most beautiful of all of our cats and therefore he must have a different adjective. (I know males aren’t supposed to be gorgeous, but he was, and will always be our most gorgeous of kitties.)

We were forced to say our goodbyes to Bob in the last week of April of 2013. It was a sunny day and a day that was meant for Bob to be outside in the world. And we took him out, as we had done as part of our saying-goodbye ritual for Phred. Keeping him any longer would have been cruel. We miss him so much. There is a huge emptiness here that will never be replaced by another kitty. Bob was unique in the cosmos. I like to imagine a grand meadow where he can play and be with our other kitties. It’s a nice thought.

As I write this, Penelope has gone through many phases of progression after Bob. First, Penelope was alone and bored. She, too, missed the pest. (Her thoughts, not ours.) She faced being alone for the first time in her little furry life.

We hoped that she would discover a new self and become a new cat. Penelope is a cat’s cat. She is independent and does it all on her terms. She, too, is beautiful and sweet, and learned to become secure in her new environment.

She has shown us that she really needed to be an only kitty for a while. We have enjoyed her and hope to have many more years with her.

Our kitty tapestry has been filled with the rich warmth of individual cats who we will always cherish, and from whom we have learned so many lessons about life. Twenty-one years ago I did not understand the power that an animal could have to shape a human life and color it in beautiful ways. Each loss is real.

So goes the cycle of life and death. It enters, snatching souls of all types, human and animal. Those we love pass on and we are faced with the loneliness of not having them on a daily basis. Time and soul-searching can heal many things, but you can never go back.

I move forward and can only resolve to make the best kitty life possible for Penelope. 

In thinking about all of this, I must admit I believe that there is a time and a season for all to end as we know it. I believe that each of us creates a future based on possibility.

Because we knew that Bob was destined to live an unnaturally short life, I created a mosaic of him that hangs where we can see him and be reminded of just how beamy he was.

I began this piece in 2013. I thought it had a different focus. I kept it in my draft section not knowing what to do with it. I can now publish it because I know the ending. It has to do with mental health issues.

More and more, we as human beings are discovering the power of unconditional love with our pets. We are finding that they are sensitive to many powerful emotions we, as humans, display. I’ve seen this with Penelope. If I’m really feeling sick she will come and be my protector. 

I’ve seen this phenomenon with someone else in my life. Because of her dog, she is more engaged in daily life. While her depression is still present, she has a sweet, loving dog to help her calm herself.

Remember George? He has been affected by animals as well. I believe that it really does help his depression.

So, telling you about my kitties and who they are is a plug to remind you that cats and dogs can reach into souls that might not be reached with words.

Therapy for those who struggle with whatever-it-is-they-struggle-with can be made easier with an animal by your side.

Tonight Penelope will grace us with her presence and I hope that she will desire to snuggle up with me. I love her and the joy she brings to all who know her.

No More “I’m Sorrys”

My first real experience with loss was when my grandfather had to be hospitalized and then died after having a heart attack. It was the first funeral I attended. I wasn’t more than ten or eleven. I understood that he was really gone. We had family around and, as a child, I took it well.  

Death touched our family several times, and in several posts I’ve talked about how I was affected by the different deaths that took place in my young life up until my early 20s. Forty years later I realize how sheltered I have been from grief and its realities. You don’t see the real stuff when you are young—I didn’t. 

Several years ago, after observing how many people would respond to someone’s loss with “I’m so sorry,” I decided to use my Facebook page to conduct some nonscientific research. I asked people “Why do you say I’m so sorry?” and the response I got was “I don’t know what else to say.” This response saddened me.  

As I’ve journeyed through the loss of my husband, I have noticed some things in ways that I’d let slide before. One hundred and eighty-three words into this post, I’m going to talk about what I’ve noticed and what it can do to those who suffer from grief and loss. 

Death Is Out of the Home 

I now live in The Netherlands. One of the huge differences here vs. the USA is that it is still common after death for the body to be viewed in one’s home. This isn’t always possible, but it still happens in many situations. Having attended such a viewing, my first thought was In the home!? My next thought was that by being in the person’s home and being with the loved ones, one could relax in his or her own surroundings as friends came by to show their love. By the end of my time there, it felt like a great way to mourn the death of a guy who kept us on our toes. It was peaceful and joyous. There were no “I’m so sorrys” said. We spoke of him and shared quietly. The Dutch are able to do this well.  

My husband’s viewing was not in our home and it wasn’t even suggested that I hold it here. However, it was a wonderful experience. People who knew him came, and by the end of the evening, I was “high on really good chocolate.” Once again, the talk was honest and we laughed and I felt supported. 

For some time (until I said “Stop”), people I knew brought me meals and it was wonderful. Then I told them that I needed to cook for myself and everything stopped. As long as they were cooking for me, they knew what to do and say, but after that…

Death moved out of the home to someplace else.  Because of the trauma surrounding his death, I really didn’t pick up on what had happened in the way I might have. Slowly, people who didn’t know what to say, or do, moved or distanced themselves from me. They didn’t want to talk about Jon or hear me talk about Jon. The first year was hard, and over that year people drifted further away until by the end of the first year, I was more alone than I would have liked to have been.  

Death Reorganizes Your Address Book  

This is a fact, and it is something I’m coming to terms with as I live through year four of life without Jon. I think this is a complex issue. This is not just about knowing what to say, but also understanding how to kindle a solid relationship. I think we’re failing in this area.  

One of the things I learned from one of my aunts was the value of real friends. She had one real friend. She and Dot had been friends for… forever, and even though they were separated geographically, they were very much in each other’s lives. They went through the good, the bad, and the ugly. Dot’s children were a real part of things as well, and when my aunt and uncle celebrated 50 years of marriage, Dot’s kids came! Like a really good marriage, Dot and my aunt Lois really worked at friendship. “I’m so sorry” was not uttered in that relationship. When Dot was diagnosed with a serious illness, words of comfort were exchanged.  

I’ve often thought that maybe it was just a slower time. Maybe it has to do with the fact that you became friends with those in your immediate surroundings, and when they moved, you wrote or called them. Was there more social necessity to make relationships work so that they would last?  

Maybe it is none of the above, or all of the above, and I’m not wanting to say that since the world has “shrunk,” and distances are smaller, we aren’t valuing things in the same way as we once did. I don’t want to blame social media for the demise of friendship. But, I have to admit that social media has affected the way we, as a world, interact with one another.  

Yes, grief reorganizes your address book, and it does so because there are many people who don’t understand how to support such loss as death, divorce, illness, or other life events.  

I’ve posted about what to say and do in the category “What Do I Say.” Yet this issue still gnaws at me. Why? My first thoughts are that people react to grief and loss in the way they want to be treated when it happens to them. It is as if all logic and reality blow out the window, and instead of saying anything, people say and do nothing. I got particularly angry about this in RAW (The Suicide). Has our social IQ dropped that much? Have we, as a society, drifted from understanding empathy that much? Brené Brown says it well in this video.

I think we’ve lost some of our ability to empathize. Maybe it has to do with the growing need to state our individual pain while forgetting about the pain of others. Therapists are in the business of pain. What I hear when I listen is the deep pain of others not being completely heard by those they feel should be hearing them. This thought causes me to recall a conversation with my husband’s psychiatrist and his ending remark to me: “You needed to be heard.” And I did need to be heard! His comment to me reminded me that with all the hearing and caretaking I was doing, I needed listening to as well.  

As I look at hearing, and being heard, from the perspective of having or getting needs met, I can’t blame people for the lack of empathy. Here’s why: There are so many forms of grief and loss that to show proper empathy for all of them might not be possible.  

I don’t know what it is like to come out as LGBTQ. I don’t know what it is like to have a miscarriage. I don’t know what it is like to have a child show hate for a parent. What I do know is that deep pain hurts, and that I can show empathy for others by tapping into places that are not so pleasant within my own life experiences that contain things I can use to empathize with. I might not understand perfectly, but I can understand. Sometimes that means doing a great deal of listening and then asking questions that will deepen my understanding of someone’s experience. I’m not expected to know it all; I’m expected to know that I can ask and learn.  

When life was less expansive than it is now, we didn’t have the “experts” to tell people what was, and wasn’t, normal. The truth is that those thought of as “experts” now may, or may not, have known what to say. My aunt and her friend Dot had to rely heavily on empathy and questioning to really understand each other. They were present in ways that mattered because it meant something to both of them. So, maybe trauma as a whole rearranges address books because people think they have to know before they open their mouths and friendships are lost. Personally, I’d rather have someone say to me “I don’t know what to say and I’d like to say the right thing.” While this puts it back on me, it also opens up a pathway for me to say “Thank you” and “This is what I need.”  

In saying all of the above, I must admit that writing this post has been a thoughtful challenge. Here is why: In conversing with several people, I’ve discovered that we really have lost the skill of empathy. The “I’m sorry for your loss” remark really is the best they can do. People are overwhelmed with all of their own stuff, and the balancing act of trying to support another person when you don’t have the skills to do it well causes you to shut down. It may also have to do with loneliness in our Western society.  

Don’t hate me for saying the following because it is not something I wanted to say in this piece, but I’m finding that I have to say it: Social media has moved many people into a state of social detachment. What I mean by this is that people know how to react to a photo or meme, but they can’t, and don’t really have the skills, to thoughtfully react to substance in long form. Knowing this may mean that right now, as you read this, you may want to engage a wee bit more than the average. You aren’t looking just to “get in and get out,” and want to say you have really connected with a thought or an idea. Think about your own social media pages; what gets the response from you? 

Facebook marketers tell you to use photos and limit words. Why? They’ve dumbed down for a faster pace. They’ve dumbed it down because people aren’t reading thoroughly.  

Gaining Empathy Skills

In most healthy family situations, it begins at a very young age: “It’s mine” is followed by a parent saying “You must share.” Slowly, the young child learns the social graces that allow for becoming friends. By four years of age, a child has enough insight to answer the question “Do you like it when…?” By the time a child enters school, the building blocks are laid for social connection, and those kids who have learned rudimentary skills in the first years of their tiny lives are ready to test their newfound skills on the larger stage. As the child grows into adolescence, the skills of childhood are put to the test as relationships deepen, friendships broaden, and exploration expands. By the time the 18-year-old enters the adult world, the lesson is done but the learning is just beginning.  

Some of my most valuable learning came about from moving out of my parents’ home at 18 and going away to school in another city. On my own, I screwed up some relationships, but also had successful ones. I came to understand things as an adult that being under my parents’ roof could never have taught me. It was hard! When I returned to my hometown in late 1990, I’d had some disastrous and some good experiences. I’d built up some life experiences that would allow me to understand deeper feelings and understand in a credible fashion: things that I could use to empathize with others.  

I share all of this to tell you: You get the skills by experiencing life. You gain empathy by blowing it, learning from it, and using the learning you acquire to reach out to others.  

You discover empathy by finding a similar feeling or experience within yourself. You don’t share the experience, but rather you recognize the power of this experience and quietly listen in order to understand. You might have “been there, done that, and have the T-shirt,” but in this case you only mentally put that T-shirt on and remember how hard it was to get through the experience so you can empathize. It is then that the questions come and the understanding and connection follow. Now two people understand, by more than words, the experience that one is having. Empathy is a marvelous thing. No more empty “I’m so sorrys.”